EAST ST. LOUIS • A Nigerian man who defrauded hundreds of lonely U.S. women online was sentenced Thursday to 27 years in federal prison and ordered to repay $1.7 million.
Olayinka Ilumsa Sunmola, of Lagos, bilked dozens of women in Missouri and Illinois alone, driving some to bankruptcy and at least one to the brink of suicide, prosecutors have said.
Sunmola and others would pretend to be members of the U.S. military stationed overseas or businessmen working there, some of whom were widowers with children. They used pictures of men in uniform they found online, sometimes lifting pictures of dead servicemen from memorial websites.
They wooed their "soul mates" via emails, instant messages, flowers, candy and other gifts. Some of the women bought wedding gowns or began to use the fake last names that Sunmola and the others were using. The scammers then began to concoct emergencies that grew ever larger until their victims' assets were gone, prosecutors said.
One Bond County, Ill. woman bankrupted herself buying electronics and shipping them to Sunmola, re-shipping things he bought using stolen credit card numbers and taking out cash advances on a credit card.
A woman identified in court last year only as Jane Doe No. 6 was a recently divorced single mother when she met Sunmola, who was claiming to be a U.S. Army major. She is also partially disabled and a survivor of an abusive relationship.
Sunmola's victims didn't know that credit cards and checks he sent to them were bogus, and that the electronic items were fraudulently purchased. Sometimes victims would be tricked a second time, when contacted by fake foreign “investigators” who demanded thousands of dollars in customs payments to send back items they claimed to have seized.
Sunmola persuaded some victims to send sexually explicit photos or videos, then used them for blackmail. In one case, Sunmola shared the pictures with a victim's relatives even after she paid him, prosecutors said.
While "systematically destroying" the women, Sunmola used their money for lavish parties, two Range Rovers, four properties in South Africa and a $363,000 home in Nigeria, prosecutors said.
After two days of a jury trial in U.S. District Court in East St. Louis in March, Sunmola pleaded guilty to eight felonies, including mail fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy, and interstate extortion. He was sentenced Thursday by U.S. District Judge David Herndon.